Some stylommatophoran species, including several helicid snails common to Europe and North America, drive sharp, calcareous darts into their sexual partners prior to copulation. Why any animal would treat a prospective mate in this manner has been the subject of considerable speculation. One widely held belief is that the dart stimulates the partner. Here, I review evidence showing that this hypothesis, along with several others, is almost certainly incorrect. On the other hand, there is strong empirical support for the idea that the dart increases the reproductive fitness of the successful shooter by promoting the survival and utilization of its sperm. How the dart works to produce this effect is an open question; current evidence indicates that it injects a chemical agent into the recipient and that this substance contracts the female tract in such a manner as to facilitate the passage of allosperm to the spermatheca. Although successful dart shooting clearly benefits the shooter, there is little evidence to suggest either a cost or a benefit to the recipient.
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Vol. 23 • No. 1